Encouraging and inhibiting idea development at morning meetings in the newsroom
This is the introduction to the Ph.D. You can find the full Ph.D. here.
In 1989, as a journalist intern and a novice in the newsroom, I participated in the morning meetings. One of my first puzzling experiences with this institutional setting was a meeting, during which three senior reporters were ordered to immediately leave the meeting, and later they were banned from it for a considerable period of time. Their offensive demeanour? They were repeatedly negative and hostile during the meeting. In itself the suspension was surprising enough, but to me even more astounding was the three reporters’ celebration of the punishment. They were happy to get out of there. One of them, Eigil Evert, was my mentor during this period of time, and throughout his impressive career he remained hostile towards the meetings. In his opinion they were demotivating. The editors had no right whatsoever to decide whether his ideas were worth pursuing or not. He felt that his integrity as a journalist was under pressure during the meetings, and that his motivation suffered badly when the editors did not unequivocally encourage him in the early stages of the idea phase, or even worse, if they wanted to pressure him to research and cover their ideas for stories. As a result, he often stayed away from the meetings, even when he wasn’t explicitly banned from it. When he took part in them, he acted sullen and was reluctant to lift the veil of any of his stories, if they were not almost finished.
As an experienced journalist, I have taken part in many morning meetings: long or short, boring or engaging, motivating or demotivating, but always unpredictable and hard to control, as is the case with most aspects of news coverage. When I had a position as a subeditor for a while, I desperately tried to find literature on how to manage these meeting in order to improve my chances of mastering them. The legacy from Evert scared me. I was wary of the meetings’ influence on productivity and motivation. However, there was nothing substantial on the subject to be found.
Instead I encountered other editors and journalists, who would like to learn more. There was definitely a demand for inspiring sources of knowledge on the meetings. I only found anecdotal evidence that the meetings are considered problematic. The British former BBC journalist Andrew Marr describes the meetings like this:
“Most editors – not all – see the morning conference as a crucial moment because it is how the paper’s character is formed. Yet since they are partly about lists, even good news conferences can be a bit dull. I worked on one paper where they were virtually meaningless, being simply a monotone recital of typed lists, followed by everyone shuffling off again.” (Marr, 2004, p. 211) The Danish journalist and now executive director for news of the Danish public service broadcast corporation, Danmarks Radio, Ulrik Haagerup wrote: ”Another reason for the media’s lack of ideas is the journalists’ daily morning meetings. If you listen, at 9.30 on all weekdays, you can hear a collective sigh over Denmark.” (Haagerup, 2006, p. 91)
According to Haagerup, it is the sigh of the editors who cannot make journalists come up with creative ideas, and who knows that the journalists hate these meetings and regard them as a waste of time.
The observations of Marr and Haagerup match my own experiences and were the basis for my personal interest in the setting as a tough nut to crack for practitioners. I realized there was a gaping hole in the toolbox for editors and others, who want to manage the meetings with less randomness and more skills.
When asking practitioners about their solutions to the problematic meetings, some react with a testimonial along this line: “If the editor is charismatic and intelligent enough, the meeting will be motivating and engaging.”
I am skeptical to boiling criterions of success at the meeting down to the propensities and characteristics of one individual. If you have ever tried working as a teacher or tried chairing a meeting you know very well that on some occasions even the best leader can be swept away by the mood of others. It takes more than one to tango in this type of setting.
Dedication and acknowledgements
This PhD is dedicated to Evert, even if he died years back. I am sure he would not like it. I am convinced he would have lamented my treachery of our trade as journalists, joining the dark forces of the so called experts in the ivory tower, and he would incredulously question my sanity to leave what he thought was the best and most important profession in the world: journalism. I would respond: There is no such thing as a hackademic. There are only good journalists and bad journalists. My aim is to make journalism better.
Of course, I take full responsibility for all the mistakes and flaws in this dissertation. However, this project would not have happened without the academic help, financial support, and critical eyes of my three supervisors Erik Albæk, Asbjørn Sonne Nørgaard and Johannes Wagner and the head of Centre for Journalism Peter Bro, to whom I am grateful for allowing me to be part of the academic circles and teaching me how to be a scholar.
A deeply grateful thank you also to the media organisations and the editors who trusted me enough to let me tape their conversations and engaged in a dialogue from which I learnt a lot.
During my stay at the UCLA Center for Language, Interaction, and Culture I had the pleasure of being taught and supervised by Steve Clayman and John Heritage. They are both eminent scholars and meet newcomers with open arms.
The academic setting at UCLA was inspiring, and I wish that welcoming spirit could be part of all academic settings. Setting and scholars like that make you grow, even when you feel small.
I would also like to thank Morten Skovsgaard, Jonas Blom, David Nicolas Hopmann, Signe Pihl-Thingvad, Christian Elmelund-Præstekær, Arjen van Dalen, Heidi Jønch-Clausen, Dennis Day and Trine Heinemann for reading my first drafts and generally helping me, when I have been stuck with anything from EndNote to finding the right literature. Thanks to all the people from the university, who have suffered my mood swings.
I would not have survived the process without Gitte Gravengaard, with whom I have developed a professional partnership of deep respect. Thanks also to my friends Leif Osmark, Claus Thorhauge and especially Lis Lyngbjerg for repeatedly keeping me on the right track and preventing me from cracking up.
Of course, the warmest embraces go to my two adult children, Elvira and Thorvald: Thanks for making life fun and worthwhile.
Haagerup, U. (2006). En god idé - fik du den? Innovationssamfundets udfordringer til dig, din chef og Danmark. København: Aschehoug.
Marr, A. (2004). My trade: A short history of British journalism. London: Pan Macmillan.